This Sunday’s upcoming UFC card will be the promotion’s first foray into Croatia, but through an unfortunate turn of events, it will be without Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, who would have made an exceptional main or co-main event here, as the card was likely intended. That aside, there are some intriguing match-ups that can present plenty of opportunity to score points for your DraftKings team.
When you’re selecting fighters for your team, you want to look at the long shots, the dark horses that can really upset the applecart. You want the underdogs.
noun: underdog; plural noun: underdogs
1. a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.
synonyms: long shot, dark horse, weaker one, little guy, David;
downtrodden, victim, loser, fall guy
“Yesterday’s underdog is today’s champion”
Now that we’ve established our underdog criteria, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of this event’s underdogs that have a decent chance of beating the odds.
Lucas Martins is a big featherweight. At 6 feet tall, he’s one of the largest guys in the division. He’s got a fairly well-rounded skillset, but seems to drop the ball when he takes a step up in competition. He’s on a 2-fight losing streak, but to be fair, Darren Elkins and Mirsad Bektic are both fantastic athletes.
Whiteford is a decorated judoka who will have a 3-inch height deficit, so he’ll need to keep this fight in a phone booth if he plans to keep it standing. If it hits the ground, which is very likely, I’m fairly confident in Rob’s technical prowess against Martins.
When asked about fighting such a big featherweight in Martins, Whiteford had this to say on the Three Amigos Podcast (my show):
“It brings back some good memories. The last time I faced a six-footer was UFC lightweight Marcus Svensson and I knocked him out in 38 seconds, so I’m familiar with six foot guys. It’s just another day in the office to me.”
Rob Whiteford via Decision
Damian Stasiak is a jack of all trades type fighter, and has a diverse skillset. He just isn’t great in any one place. His loss to Yaotzin Meza was disappointing, considering he was on a 5-fight tear. He struggled mightily with Meza’s grappling and that will likely be a path to victory for Pejic, who is a much bigger fighter and is riding a confidence-boosting 8-0-1 hot streak right now.
Pejic, the card’s only native Croation, has pretty good striking, as well, and is capable on the ground. I feel like he’ll have a big strength advantage in addition to the height advantage, and that he’ll be able to capitalize anywhere this fight goes. I’m not a big believer in the power of “home field advantage,” but if you subscribe to that notion, Pejic will have it here.
Pejic via TKO
Maryna Moroz is a damned good technical striker and is actually a boxing coach for the Ukrainian Olympic women’s boxing team. On paper, she looks better than Stanciu, but her win over the talented Scottish prospect, Joanne Calderwood, has a big question mark over it due to the fact that Calderwood had serious personal issues that presented themselves just a couple days before their fight.
Stanciu finds herself in much the same position Moroz was in leading to her bout with Calderwood, a perfect 5-0 record with the odds stacked against her. She has a pretty decent striking game of her own and has the slight edge in overall power. She’s an aggressive fighter, so the key to her victory is locking up the clinch and unloading. I see this fight being a barn-burner that will be a super fun watch.
Critina Stanciu via TKO
Zak Cummings is a huge welterweight. I mean, this guy used to fight at 205! He trains out of Glory MMA & Fitness and FactoryX Muay Thai and is teammates with James Krause, Chris Camozzi and a slew of other very talented athletes. He’s coming in as a late replacement for Bartosz Fabinski, but had a month’s notice, so his camp has been much nearer the “norm” than most late replacement fighters get. He’s a good grappler and has a strong top game.
Nicolas Dalby is a gritty fighter whose record only has one small blemish, a majority draw against top prospect Darren Till. He’s a gritty, durable fighter and doesn’t panic under pressure. He recovered nicely from being dropped by Till, and went on to fight of the night honors. His defensive wrestling game needs a little work, but he’s a guy that’s constantly fine tuning his skillset, so I expect to see improvement there. Dalby’s durability and conditioning is going to be the key in this fight, and I believe he weathers the storm Zak’s standup will likely bring.
Side note: Dalby fought Ivica Trušček in 2013 in a long, grueling battle, even having his front teeth knocked out in the process. Ivica went on to say that the beating Dalby gave him was something he never wanted to experience again. Despite that, the two fought again, with Dalby repeating his results from their first outing. Trušček will be in Dalby’s corner Sunday, as the two have become very close friends in the three years following their battles.
Nicolas Dalby via Decision
Gabriel Gonzaga is very much on the downside of his career. While he holds a win over his last opponent, Konstantin Erokhin, it was a fight that was painful, nay, excruciating to watch, and demonstrated only that insomnia can indeed be cured without prescription medication. He has dropped 3 of his last 4 fights, two of those coming by way of TKO. He does pack power, and that should still be a concern for Lewis, as well as a smothering ground game and great jiu-jitsu.
Lewis is one of my favorite fighters to watch. He’s aggressive, throws huge bombs and almost always finds his way out of fights before the scheduled bout duration has expired. As a matter of fact, he’s only gone the distance twice in his 6-year career. He holds wins over Jared Rosholt, Jack May, Guto Inocente, Viktor Pesta, Damian Grabowski and a slew of others. While his ground game isn’t as polished as Gonzaga’s, his power and hand speed will very likely get the job done early on in the fight.
Side Note: Derrick Lewis is a very, very funny guy and has one of the most entertaining Twitter feeds on the UFC roster.
Derrick Lewis via TKO